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Full text of "NightRider"

93

One year after the end of the war, the Tolliver property was
lost by foreclosure, and four months later Mrs. Tolliver died
of a galloping consumption. For four months she lay on a
great tester bed, in a shack that would scarcely shed water,
and spat blood daintily into handkerchiefs made out of old
clothes or sacking. Toward the end of her illness she would
rouse herself from her stupor and, in a careful and monoton-
ous voice, curse her husband, whose selfish madness and wilful
pride had brought ruin on those nearest and dearest to him.
He was dead and rotten somewhere down in Tennessee, and
she was glad of it, she said, and she hoped his soul was in
eternal hell. She would dwell with orderly and precise detail
on the corruption of his body, which she maintained she
could see before her—how the flesh had fallen away from his
left cheek to expose the place where he had lost three teeth,
a place which he in his unholy and ungodly vanity had
tried to hide when he smiled; how he lay in a ditch, covered
shallowly with a little muck and dead leaves, food for worms;
how there was no top to his hollow head, for the ball had
taken it off. Just after dark she would prop herself up in
the bed and describe the picture, night by night adding hi
her monotonous and careful voice new details to the familiar
horror. She was obscene and eloquent, and the very restraint
and monotony of her voice gave a magical, a hypnotic con-
viction to all she said. Her two children, Edmund, sixteen
years old, and Matilda, four years older, would stand beside
her bed, rigid and stony-eyed, and listen to her until she fell
silent from exhaustion.

When she had fallen silent, Edmund would look at her
and then at the hard and masklike face of his sister, which
seemed hacked down to the very bone. Then he would dash
from the shack and run aimlessly down the road and across
the fields. On nights when the moon was bright and the
ground was frozen like iron, or when the steady winter rains
beat down and he plunged blindly through mud and slush,
he would range the country like a starving wolf. His breath
would come in dry gasps, and he would long to be able to